6 Ways Writing Can Be Therapeutic
At JamBios, we love all different types of reminiscing. One of these is expressive writing, a form of writing that has shown a ton of therapeutic benefits.
Expressive writing involves writing about your thoughts, feelings and experiences—your deepest emotions about yourself, your life, and events from your past or present. Like with writing a memory story in your JamBio, there’s no need to worry about sentence structure, spelling or grammar; all you need to do is write from the heart and let it all out.
Here are six ways that expressive writing could be therapeutic for you.
Telling your stories helps you reach your happy ending.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy shows us that by changing your thoughts, you can change your emotions and therefore change your actions. In a similar way, think of your life as your personal story—writing down what has already happened can help you change how the rest of the story goes.
Health psychology researcher Susan Lutgendorf, PhD, conducted an intensive study on the subject with her student Phil Ullrich. In their research, participants who relived trauma without trying to find significance in it reported poorer health than those who wrote with meaning. Plus, writers who focused on meaning were better at looking at the bright side. “You need focused thought as well as emotions,” says Lutgendorf. “An individual needs to find meaning in a traumatic memory as well as to feel the related emotions to reap positive benefits from the writing exercise.” So if you try out expressive writing, be sure you try to find meaning in what you write!
Some writing each day keeps the doctor away.
Expressive writing heals—and not just on a mental level. For participants of one expressive writing study, writing about their traumas resulted in 43% fewer visits to the doctor—almost half their normal rate.
Other research has shown that expressive writing can boost immune function through increased production of white blood cells; improve lung function in asthmatics; lessen distress from migraines; and even reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. In 30-minute writing sessions for four consecutive days, gastroenterologist Dr. Albena Halpert asked 103 IBS patients to write about their deepest thoughts and emotions regarding their condition. The 82 that successfully completed displayed substantial improvements in the severity of their disease, as well as their maladaptive thoughts related to it.
Expressive writing can make you a star student . . . or employee of the month.
Did you know that getting better at expressing yourself through free-writing can help you improve professionally? Expressive writing has been linked to making fewer mistakes at work or in your other tasks. In a recent study, high school students with high levels of test anxiety were divided into two groups—an expressive writing group and a control group. The first group wrote expressively about positive emotions and found meaning in their writing by using insight words like “understand” and “realize.” As a result, they were able to reduce their test anxiety.
Writing things down can build you up.
Using writing to confront your demons can make you a more resilient person. Sue, one of our Jammers who has used her JamBio to express her thoughts about her painful past, says that writing has been a “safety valve” and “means of catharsis” since her early teens. “[Writing] doesn’t have to measure up to anyone’s standard of good, not even your own,” she says. “It’s just about transferring the pain from your head where it can build up to dangerous, potentially lethal levels, into a safe space where you can look at it and gain some perspective.”
The science backs it up. Expressive writing has been demonstrated to result in lower blood pressure, better memory, and reduced depressive symptoms; in a 2013 study, highly expressive people who engaged in writing about their thoughts and feelings showed a significant reduction in anxiety. It’s illustrated physically as well—when people write about very personal subjects, their immediate biological responses echo those of people who are trying to relax.
Writing helps free up space on your mental hard drive.
“Writing really forces a structure that your mind doesn’t have,” says Dr. James Pennebaker, a pioneer in the field of expressive writing as therapy. “It allows you to start putting things together.” Psychotherapist and journaling expert Maud Purcell notes that the process removes mental blocks by engaging the analytical left hemisphere of the brain and freeing up the right brain for creativity, feeling and intuition. In other words, opening up about an event can help open up your mind as well.
Short-term sadness = long-term happiness.
In Dr. Pennebaker’s research, his participants reported that “writing about upsetting experiences, although painful in the days of writing, produces long-term improvements in mood and indicators of well-being.” In other words, it’s okay to feel a little sad after writing expressively, just like you might feel after reading a sad book or watching an emotional movie. Don’t worry, it’ll pass. The feeling is temporary, but the results are long-lasting!
So, want to try expressive writing? Check out these tips to help get you started!